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Who will be the next justice on all-male SC Supreme Court?

FILE - The South Carolina Supreme Court building.
Wikimedia Commons
FILE - The South Carolina Supreme Court building.

Six candidates — three men and three women, two are African American — are seeking an open seat on the S.C. Supreme Court.

South Carolina's all-male Supreme Court will get a new justice on the bench this year.

And of the six candidates who filed to fill a vacancy on the state's high court, three are women and two of the women are African American. All three male candidates are white.

The Judicial Merit Selection Commission, the Legislature's judicial candidate screening panel, on Monday released the names of six candidates vying to be on the Supreme Court.

One of the candidates will be elected by the state's 170 legislators to fill the seat currently held by Justice John Kittredge, who was recently elected by lawmakers to become the next chief justice.

Chief Justice Don Beatty, the court's sole Black justice, will retire this summer because of the state's mandatory retirement age of 72 for judges.

South Carolina is one of two states where lawmakers, not voters, elect most judges.

The candidates to fill the vacancy are:

  • Judge Ralph Anderson, III, Columbia
  • Judge Blake Hewitt, Conway
  • Judge Deadra Jefferson, Charleston
  • Judge Keith Kelly, Spartanburg
  • Judge Jocelyn Newman, Columbia
  • Judge Letitia Verdin, Greenville

Anderson is the Administrative Law Court chief judge, and Hewitt and Verdin both sit on the state's Appeals Court. Jefferson, Kelly and Newman are circuit court judges.
South Carolina's Supreme Court is the only supreme court in the country with an all-male bench.

Two women have served on the court: Former Chief Justice Jean Toal and Justice Kaye Hearn. Toal retired in 2015, and Hearn retired in 2023.

Hearn was the only woman on the court when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. She later wrote in the majority that overturned the state's former six-week so-called "fetal heartbeat" law in a 3-2 decision.

The ruling was blasted by Republican politicians, who considered it judicial overreach.

In the race last year to replace Hearn, two female candidates vying for the spot withdrew their bids. That put then-Judge Gary Hill on track to win the seat.

Weeks later, lawmakers elected Hill as the next justice.

With Hill on the bench, the all-male court later upheld a new six-week abortion ban in a 4-1 decision.

The JMSC will start hearings for the six Supreme Court candidates on May 9, the last nominal day of the legislative session.

The Legislature will return in June to elect a new justice.

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.